Friday, February 13, 2004

Bourbon Tasting
Guest Notes from Harry V

[Bourbon is one the preferred beverage choices of the Chowhounds, myself included. Through the encouragement of the poster ab, and extra efforts of AaronD, a tasting was arranged at Delilah's bar in Chicago. I could not attend to my strong regret, but I am lucky enough to be able to share Harry V's detailed tasting notes.]

If no one else cares to weigh in, I'll take a crack at describing the
tasting. Samples were 1.5 ounces (i.e., one shot), poured into
straight-sided glasses tall enough to capture their aromas. The lineup was
as follows:

1. GEORGIA MOON CORN WHISKEY. Mike Miller, owner of Delilah's and emcee for
the event, began with this whimsical selection so as to demonstrate the
flavor of 100% corn whiskey (of course bourbons, to be labelled as such,
must be made of more than 50% corn). It was the color of pale straw, to my
senses it smelled of weak tequila and tasted like very light rum. A ringer.

2. W.L. WELLER 12-YEAR BOURBON. The first three actual bourbons sampled
represent those in which corn is supplemented with wheat, rather than the
more usual rye. To me this one had a bright, pleasantly acidic aroma with
hints of honey, and a very wheaty flavor suffused with black pepper. Very

3. MAKER'S MARK. Another wheated bourbon, this long-time favorite (of mine)
had a nice woody aroma, and a more well-rounded flavor than the Weller, less
wheaty and a little more .. well, "fruity" is what I wrote down, even though
there's no fruit in the stuff. (Surely I was still sober at this early

indicated that this bourbon was derived from the Van Winkle line of bourbon.
This was the last of the wheated bourbons we tried, with an elegant, well
balanced aroma (i.e., it smelled simply like bourbon), with a flavor that
was less bright than the previous two, but richer, deeper, earthier and more
well-rounded, with a much longer finish than anything we tried all night
except the two Old Potreros at the end. Excellent.

Disclosure: the next seven whiskeys, all featuring rye rather than wheat
(and most of them very modest amounts at that), didn't do much for me. So my
comments on them should perhaps be taken with more than usual dosage of

5. OLD FORESTER BOURBON. Strongly alcoholic, turpentine-like aroma; very
middle-of-the-road flavor (it should not have followed the Delilah house

6. WOODFORD RESERVE BOURBON. Aroma of apples plus turpentine; flavor was
much like that of a youngish, indifferent Speyside single-malt.

7. BASIL HAYDEN BOURBON. This had a mild, "fruity," slightly sweet aroma;
very mild, smooth flavor. Aptly described by Mr. Miller as a "ladies'
bourbon" (Joan: his words, not mine).

8. VERY OLD BARTON BOURBON. Aroma similar to the Basil Hayden, but not as
sweet, a little more turpentine (due, I would assume, to a stronger proof);
flavor was exceedingly mild, akin to Canadian whisky.

9. BUFFALO TRACE BOURBON. The least successful whiskey we tried, in my
opinion (apart from the leadoff corn squeezins). I thought it had no smell
at all, with a watery, corn-whiskey-like flavor.

10. WILD TURKEY RUSSELL'S RESERVE BOURBON. This was a good one, with a
strongly malty aroma (first sign of maltiness in the tasting; but stay
tuned) and a dark, rich, buttery flavor, slightly reminiscent of a superior
dark rum.

11. ELIJAH CRAIG 18-YEAR SINGLE BARREL BOURBON. Sweet, appley aroma with a
mellow, slightly clove-like flavor.

Last came the two Old Potreros. Initially Mr. Miller planned to serve only
the Single Malt Whiskey (from toasted barrels); but in the middle of working
himself, and us, into an ecstasy of expectation while he described its
glories, he noticed that his assistant had poured out the other Old Potrero
(from charred barrels). After a parliamentary exchange of ideas between
ourselves and he, Mr. Miller eventually came 'round to providing a sample of
the toasted-barrel Old Potrero as well.

Not much finesse here but what a blockbuster! Intense aroma of pine cones
and pine forest; a rye plus black pepper flavor of intense fullness, depth
and length; kind of like drinking a liquid Ry Krisp (but better).

(TOASTED BARREL). This, in my opinion, was undoubtedly the finest drink
tasted. A very well-rounded, sweet, fruity, piney smell (but not
monochromatically piney like the charred Potrero); flavor of intense
maltiness - sweet, rich and peppery - just great! (And strong!)


After the official tasting was over, a few of us decided we needed to
supplement (ahem) our findings.

S1. BAKER'S. Gary Wiviott's bourbon of preference entering the tasting,
Baker's was smooth with nice flavor, a fine all-around bourbon.

S2. EVAN WILLIAMS. Aaron's preferred mixer bourbon - and I can see why.


Harry V

P.S. It's too bad Mike Miller did not himself participate in the tasting, or
else by the end he might have been willing to pass around shots from his
semi-legendary 1916 bottle of Old Mock. Maybe next time.

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